Why isn't 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' awesome?

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Oct. 11 2013 5:13 p.m. MDT

Marvel shows off its "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

ABC

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We're only a few episodes into the new ABC adventure series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and one thing is clear — it isn't awesome.

Based on the Marvel movie universe that encompassed such hits as "Iron Man," "Thor," "Captain America" and "The Avengers," and co-created by the always inventive Joss Whedon, the TV show should be absolutely, mind-blowingly fantastic.

"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." isn't a bad show. On the contrary, it is a decent network hourlong action program. So far, however, it lacks that extra something that most fans were hoping for.

So the question is, why isn't this show awesome? Let's look at a few of the factors keeping this show from really soaring.

First of all, a lot of the problems stem from casting and characters. Clark Gregg reprises his multiple-film role of Agent Phil Coulson, who had been killed off in "The Avengers" but has returned under mysterious circumstances for the TV series. Gregg's Coulson is quirky, fun and engaging, the perfect supporting character for the films. But can the character carry a primetime TV series? The jury is still out on that, but so far it seems he's far more of a Jonathan Higgins than a Magnum P.I.

ABC also committed an all-too-common network TV mistake. With the exception of Gregg, virtually all the regulars in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." are young and good looking. This really hurts the show's credibility and relatability. With the exception of Coulson, every series regular looks like a supermodel. At a time when many cable TV programs are embracing different, odd or downright homely actors for major characters (Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire, anyone?), network TV continues to cast unrealistically.

Here's hoping that Ron Glass reprises his scientist role from the first episode sometime soon. This is an older actor who could bring some much needed gravitas to the series. As Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, "The Lord must love homely people, since he made so many of them." Too many young, beautiful people just make the show look fake.

Aside from Coulson, thus far none of the regular characters are particularly interesting. That may change as the series progresses and the writers can take some real chances with them. But history has shown that more than one sci-fi genre TV series has relied too heavily on concept and special effects while maintaining the same bland characters over the series' lifetime (“Star Trek: Voyager," anyone?). So far, at least, the word that best describes the characters in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is “uninteresting.”

Also, so far the show is really trying to get by on charm and familiarity rather than solid storytelling. Characters make constant references to Thor's hammer, Captain America and the Battle of New York, the climatic scene in "The Avengers." While it is important to place the show in the context of the universe and relate the events that had significance, the result feels a little too obvious — like an acquaintance who constantly nudges you in the arm to bring up some half-remembered shared experience in the hopes of ingratiating himself with you. It offers nothing really new and gets old fast.

The second episode featured a somewhat amusing cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. The scene was funny but ultimately dragged on way too long and really had nothing to do with the story itself. Is this what the series is going to come down to — occasionally throwing a superhero cameo to keep audiences interested instead of really developing story and character? Superhero cameos are not a bad idea in general, and indeed could be really cool. But like the constant references to the earlier films, such cameos could easily become a crutch.

One hopes that if Iron Man or Thor ever do show up in the series, it will be as an integral part of the plot, not a throw-away appearance as Fury's was. This seems unlikely, however, given actor salaries and scheduling.

So far the stories themselves have not been anything really thrilling. We've seen the agents battle an everyman who was transformed with superpowers and Peruvian terrorists intent on capturing an alien artifact. Somehow, after the grand adventure of the films these early episodes have not found a way to make the stakes seem high enough.

Though, again, perhaps that will change if we can become more invested in the characters. At the end of the day, the writing in these episodes wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.

With all of the above problems keeping the show from being awesome, there is no denying there is a certain fun factor in getting a weekly dose of the Marvel universe. Also, the show has the power to attract a wide audience.

A friend recently told me that one of his fondest memories was watching "The A-Team" as a young boy with his father. Now, he watches "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." with his 11-year-old son. If a show can bring families together like that, it is obviously doing something right.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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